Natalie Portman as Dr. Emma Kurtzman
Ashton Kutcher as Adam Franklin
Kevin Kline as Alvin Franklin
Greta Gerwig as Patrice
Jake M. Johnson as Eli
Lake Bell as Lucy
Mindy Kaling as Shira
Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges as Wallace
Ophelia Lovibond as Vanessa
Jennifer Irwin as Megan
Olivia Thirlby as Katie Kurtzman
Cary Elwes as Dr. Metzner
Talia Balsam as Sandra Kurtzman
There’s a reason why movies released in January get the reputation they have. Sure, it can be easy and clichéd to say it’s just a dumping ground for stuff the studio knows no one will like, and there probably are other reasons. Frequently there are hidden gems targeted at a small market that just aren’t going to have any real box office no matter when they’re released.
But then they put out something like “No Strings Attached” and you realize, no, studios use this as a dumping ground. Because so many poor films are pushed out in the first quarter it’s likely you will see the worst film of the year very early on. This year, not even three weeks have gone by and we’ve already got a solid first contender for the title.
Emma (Natalie Portman) and Adam (Ashton) have known each other off and on for years but for various reasons they’ve had a chance to try at a relationship together: either he’s been with other people or she has been continuing to grapple with her complete inability to deal with other people on a more than casual level. But when Adam’s vacuous girlfriend leaves him for his sitcom star dad (Kevin Kline), all impediments seem to be out of the way, except for the one about Emma’s inability to relate to other people. That’s here to stay. So instead, they decide to just be friends with benefits, convinced that they can leave it at that without any messy emotional entanglements.
After the travesty of “My Super Ex-Girlfriend” I thought Ivan Reitman (“Ghostbusters”) had made the worst film of his career. And in fact it may still be, but “No Strings Attached” is going to give it a good run for its money.
Playwright-turned-screenwriter Elizabeth Meriwether and co-writer Michael Samonek seem to want to be creating a bawdy adult comedy with emotional depth that neither shies away from sex or fetishizes it, placing it in its proper context within young adult relationships. That’s what it would like to be doing; unfortunately it is so unbelievably tone deaf it has no idea how to do that and instead resorts to crude sex jokes immediately and without stop. Within the film’s opening ten minutes, Emma makes an off-hand joke about a one-night stand at her father’s funeral, and that’s actually not as bad as the scene that comes immediately before it when Emma and Adam first meet as teenagers.
The secret of comedy is timing and the screenwriter seem to have no understanding of this. Yes, it is supposed to be a sex comedy, but there needs to be balance in order for the jokes to have their maximum impact. If every other line of dialogue is an over-the-top quip or every other scene becomes an embarrassing sexual situation, it quickly stops being funny and just becomes wearying.
It’s actually probably not Reitman’s fault. “No Strings Attached” is actually decently put together, presenting even its most outrageous aspects as somewhat believable (if annoying), though his casting is hit and miss. While many of the supporting roles are just right, Kline is terribly miscast as Adam’s self-involved father in a subplot that ends up being far pointless than it should be. It’s supposed to be providing an example of how a life of casual sex leaves you with little to nothing, and the type of person that would appeal to, but for the most part it’s an excuse to poke fun at the old trope of the aging celebrity playing at being young.
Portman brings as much she possibly can to the role, playing against type and seeming to be enjoying every minute of it. She tends to provide most of the few truly funny moments; unfortunately she’s also completely unrelatable by design. Her chemistry with Kutcher isn’t bad, and Reitman keeps him toned down for the most part – in other circumstances watching a couple of hours of the two of them wouldn’t be so bad.
And although execution does count for a lot, there’s no amount of skill on Earth that can help this turkey. The script, the foundation everything else rests on, is just too awful. Rent it one day if you’re in the mood to find out exactly how not to write a sex comedy. It’s not worth much else.